HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Management Competencies

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (January, 2004), the HR Group newsletter.

Managers, traditionally, have usually been selected and/or promoted on the basis of technical competence. The best engineer has been promoted to head the Engineering Department, the best accountant the Finance Department and so forth. The same can be said for the chief executive officer in the private sector or the chief administrative officer in the public sector. The individual selected has usually been someone who is technically competent in at least one of the organization’s main functions and someone who is familiar with all aspects of the organization as a whole; someone who “knows the industry” or someone who has “come up through the ranks”. 

There has been little if any emphasis on general organizational or people management competencies. The knowledge and ability, for example, of how to create a productive workplace where all employees are intrinsically motivated to take ownership and to be accountable for results has not been a required competency. This has not been necessary as the traditional management style has been to control the way people work; to control what they do, how they do it and every other aspect of their work. This has been the primary function of the manager. The people side of the business has been considered the “soft” side that really doesn’t impact the bottom line as long as everyone does what they are told.

This traditional view of management competence is still, unfortunately, prevalent in many organizations. There is a growing recognition, however, that the only real and sustainable competitive advantage left is in human productivity and creating an organizational climate that supports and enhances it. We need employees who take ownership of their work, who can problem solve, and who display initiative and creativity. Management’s primary responsibility today, therefore, is to create and sustain such an organizational culture. This requires a far more democratic management style as well as different organizational structures and processes. As a result, managers today require more than just technical competence. This is equally true of the first line supervisor as it is of the chief executive officer.

The main desired competencies for managers according to a generic management competency model outlined in Competence at Work by Lyle and Signe Spencer (1993, p.201) are:

  • Impact and Influence
  • Achievement Orientation
  • Teamwork and Cooperation
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Initiative
  • Developing Others
  • Self-confidence
  • Directiveness / Assertiveness
  • Information Seeking
  • Team Leadership
  • Conceptual Thinking

These are not purely technical competencies. These are competencies for managing people and the overall organization.

The Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators lists the following as top ranked training needs:

  • Communication techniques
  • Performance counselling and coaching
  • Change management
  • Conflict resolution/negotiation
  • Strategic planning/thinking
  • Business analysis
  • Creative problem solving
  • Team building
  • Results-based action
  • Staff motivation

Again, these are primarily competencies for managing people and the overall organization; they are not technical competencies.

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) in the United States says that, “Local government administrators must be integrative managers and administrators par excellence. Within the local government organization, they must provide staff leadership, design and implement change, … improve productivity, and set the tone for high standards of performance among staff.”

Everywhere we look we see the requirement for competencies in organizational effectiveness and design and in overall human resources management. Yet subjects in these areas are the least taught in most of our schools of business and our public administration educational programs. Schools of business still emphasize technical competence in the traditional areas of accounting, marketing, management information systems, business law and economics, for example. Programs in public administration still emphasize public legislation and finance. In addition, the few courses that are available in organizational effectiveness and human resources management are frequently electives and not part of the required core curriculum.

My partners and I mentor students from some of these academic programs. We are constantly shocked at the lack of knowledge that these students have been provided regarding productive management practices and the best current literature regarding these practices. Many of the relevant courses are also, unfortunately, taught by academics with little actual work experience. It is interesting to note that most of the best courses available that teach up to date management competencies are available through extension programs and continuing studies programs. Most of these courses, however, are only available to the mature working student; they are not offered as part of the normal degree or diploma programs.

Some of the academic experts in the field of management studies are also expressing their concerns based on some extensive research. A recent research paper, The End of Business Schools? Less Success Than Meets the Eye, by noted Stanford University Business Faculty professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong (2002), states that the MBA degree does not really serve any useful purpose. They conclude that the MBA degree does not produce more income or greater success in the business world and that the research done by the academic institutions involved has had little if any impact on day-to-day business practices. They state that, “a large body of evidence suggests that the curriculum taught in business schools has only a small relationship to what is important for succeeding in business.” They refer to one study (Porter and McKibbin, 1988, p.65) in which many critics felt that, “quantitatively based analytical techniques received too much attention, while there was little attention given to developing leadership and interpersonal skills.” Another study (Mintzberg and Gosling, 2002, p.28) noted that, “contemporary business education focuses on the functions of business more than the practice of managing.”

We are in short supply of capable leaders and managers. How can we hope to fill this shortage if we are not providing the education and training in today’s required competencies? In our next newsletter we will examine how the lack of these competencies is why, unfortunately, many managers get terminated; it is not for any lack of technical knowledge and ability.


Mintzberg, H., 2002. Reality programming for MBAs. Strategy and Business, 26(1), pp.28-31.

Pfeffer, J. and Fong, C.T., 2002. The End of Business Schools? Less Success Than Meets The        Eye. Academy of Management Learning and Education, Volume 1.

Porter, L.W. and McKibbin, L.E., Management Education and Development. New York: McGraw-Hill

Spencer, L.M. and Spencer, S.M., 1993. Competence at Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.